The President’s Western Regional Tour: My Observations

Travelling with President John Dramani Mahama on his recent Western Regional working visit was an eye-opener. It was fruitful to know more about a region that is a major contributor to GDP but has not reaped much returns from the abundant resources. Mr Mahama may not have traversed the entire length and breadth of the region due to the short period of three days he spent in the region but what I witnessed in the places visited and my own deductions can be something worthwhile to share with readers. Inspiring hope I saw in President Mahama a leader who sought to inspire hope in the people. He sought to tell the people that there were brighter days ahead for them under his government. For a region so endowed with abundant natural resources, yet deficient in infrastructural development, it was good news to hear from the President how his government was implementing short to medium-term development strategies to create a prosperous future. Experience Clearly, it was a huge experience travelling with the President on the tour, especially when his mission had to do with issues touching on the lives of the people. I have travelled with the Number One man of the land on three of his regional working visits – Central, Northern and Western - and I must say the Western Region was much more worthwhile, as it gave me further insight into a region yet to reap the benefits of its rich resources. My affinity with the Western region is clear. My home region, Brong Ahafo, shares a border with the Western Region. The two regions share a number of things in common. My half siblings are from Sefwi Benkyemaa. In my professional career too, I have covered many stories in the Sefwi area and have come to appreciate some of the opportunities and challenges of the people. Strategies Over the years, the people of the region have employed different strategies and means to draw the attention of the political establishment to appreciate the problems confronting them, and to drum home the fact that they could no longer bear the continued neglect of the region. Some of the methods employed by the people included public demonstrations and news conferences. In some ways, they worked as government reacted quickly to fix the problems. Infrastructure One common message from the chiefs and opinions leaders in the region during the President’s working visit was inadequate infrastructure, especially roads. Roads in the region have suffered monumental neglect for years and that is why all eyes are on Mr Mahama to turn things round for them. For a region endowed with abundant natural resources, it has no business to be deficient in infrastructural development. From minerals such as gold, bauxite and manganese to timber, cocoa and oil the region have them in abundance, yet there is no corresponding improvement in physical infrastructure. The World Bank estimates Ghana's infrastructure deficit at about US$1.5 billion annually and the President is seeking ways to come out of the challenge. The turbulence coming over the national economy from both external and internal forces notwithstanding, President Mahama appears toughened to stay afloat to execute his agenda for the region. Work on a number of road projects is ongoing in the region and these are expected to reduce poverty and boost socio-economic development. In health, the government has also established many CHPS compounds in the communities, alongside health centres to boost health delivery. School infrastructure continues to spring up in the towns and villages because as the President said, education is a major priority of his government. The Takoradi Port is also undergoing expansion to tremendously improve the handling capacity of the port. The completion of the project would create about 1,000 additional jobs. Opportunities In spite of the infrastructure and other problems in the region, there are good opportunities available for them to take advantage of. On the tour, Mr Mahama made the call for the people to take advantage of the enormous opportunities that abound in the region. It was a legitimate charge from the number one citizen and one can only hope it gets down well with the residents especially those in the rural areas. Agriculture The role played by agriculture in advancing growth of the Western region cannot be overemphasised. Without doubt, agriculture has led to employment generation, food security poverty reductions some extent. To transform the lives of the rural poor and underprivileged, there is the need for a major transformation of the operations of the small holder farmer. It is unacceptable, as the President said, for Ghana to import rice to the tune of $200 million annually when a huge potential existed for the country to be self- sustainable in rice production. The nation must be doing more in agriculture if we want to get to the top and the Western region which is a major agrarian region cannot be overlooked. Lack of agricultural inputs inadequate credit support to farmers and other difficulties have pushed many farmers to play subsistence. As Mr Mahama said, agriculture remained the prime importance of his government and he could only double up the pace. Agriculture, as he promised, must be made attractive to entice the youth into it. We cannot allow the ageing population to be in the field, while the youth drift to the cities for non-existent jobs. In that case, access to land, inputs and credit should be forthcoming. The banks are refusing to give credit to farmers because agriculture is a high risk venture. The government needs to find a way out of this. Along the roads in some of the communities, I also spotted farm produce rotting away because there were no buyers. The government must look at investing more in storage and preservation facilities. Deforestation Flying in a helicopter, I saw large swathes of forest reserves, parts of which have been attacked by human activities. It drummed home the fact that a lot more effort must be made to check this canker of deforestation. A prosperous future cannot be guaranteed if we continued to destroy the forests. Fishing One major occupation of the people of the coastal areas of the region is fishing. I saw only one fishing community in Sekondi and the state of the community was not worthy of Sekondi. There must be serious efforts to improve the conditions in the fishing communities. But, I was so impressed with the magnificent sea defence project at Sekondi financed by the government. This is a typical case people-centred development. The sea was virtually eating deep into the community and the government reacted to save the situation from further deterioration. The appeal made by the chiefs to government to investigate the source of dwindling fish stock in the area to establish whether it has any link with oil drilling going on is also legitimate.